Brainiac: Science Abuse
|Style over substance|
Brainiac: Science Abuse is a TV "science" show.[note 1] It was presented for its first four series by Richard Hammond, of Top Gear fame, and was initially designed to bring real interest back to science. It did this primarily by removing the science and replacing it with large breasts and explosions.
Although initially fun and almost accurate, as the series progressed, it concentrated even less on the science and more on the abuse. The episodes quickly became nothing more than a string of explosions held together by Hammond explaining how dangerous they were.
Accusations of fraud
It is a well known fact that alkali metals (lithium to cesium) increase in reactivity going down Group 1 of the periodic table. To demonstrate this, teachers often mix them with water to show a faster reaction from lithium to potassium. Rubidium and cesium, the two least common of the alkali metals are highly reactive, often being held under inert argon atmospheres to prevent them reacting with moisture in the air. The experiment shown on Brainiac attempted to show rubidium and cesium reacting even more violently.
Due to numerous reasons, cesium and rubidium will not produce dramatic explosions. The amount of hydrogen gas (which is the primary cause of the "explosions" not the actual reaction) produced per gram of metal rapidly decreases down Group 1. Thus, the higher mass metals will not produce a dramatic reaction even though the reaction is intense and these metals will readily react with water vapour in the air.[note 2] It turns out that in reality, the biggest bang comes from good old common sodium, rather than the more exotic and expensive materials. Brainiac producers decided to screw the real, interesting science and present their audience with, not a metal induced explosion but a conventional one produced by regular special effects pyrotechnics. In fact, if you slow it down and look closely enough, you can see the detonator wires going into the bathtub.
Ben Goldacre gets his science on
Noted blogger and columnist Ben Goldacre brought the frauds to the attention of the media throughout 2006 after being contacted by someone working on the show. Despite Goldacre's letters and calls to Sky TV, they refuse to comment which experiments have been faked.
- MythBusters - They repeated the alkali metals experiment and showed undramatic results.
- It's called "Science Abuse" for a reason.
- You treat them with care because they're expensive and you don't want them dissolving
inyour hand, do you?